Trichuriasis is an infection by a whipworm or Trichuris trichiura. The parasite gets its common name from its whip-like shape. Whipworm infections occur in the large intestines of humans and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. You can get a whipworm infection after ingesting soil or water contaminated with feces that is carrying the parasite. Though anyone can develop the infection, children are more likely to contract it, as are people living in the warm and humid climates where the parasite predominantly resides.
Trichuris trichiura is the parasite responsible for causing the whipworm infection. The parasite is thick on one end, resembling the handle of whip, with a more slender attachment.
If you have a whipworm infection, your symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Abdominal pain, sudden and unexpected weight loss, nausea, vomiting, painful or frequent bowel movements, and headaches are symptoms of a whipworm infection. You may also experience bloody diarrhea and bowel incontinence or the inability to control bowel movements.
With prompt treatment, most people make a full recovery from whipworm infections. However, untreated infections can result in complications The infection can spread to the appendix or colon, and some people develop anemia or a drop in the red blood cell count. Others with an untreated infection may experience rectal prolapse, where part of the large intestine protrudes out of the rectum. In children, lack of treatment can lead to delayed cognitive development or physical growth.
People usually contract whipworm infections through ingestion of water or soil with contaminated feces. Soil becomes contaminated with whipworm eggs when humans or animals defecate outdoors, or when fertilizer contains contaminated feces. Sometimes, fruits and vegetables improperly cooked, washed, or peeled can carry and transfer the parasite. You can also ingest whipworm eggs or larvae by touching the soil with your hands and then putting your hands or fingers near or in your mouth.
When a person ingests whipworm eggs, they nest in the small intestine, where they hatch and release larvae. Once the larvae are mature, they migrate to the large intestine where they live as adult worms. Female whipworms begin to produce eggs approximately two months later. Each adult female whipworm can produce between 3,000 and 20,000 eggs each day.
Whipworm infections can affect anyone, but some people are at higher risk. Living in an area with a hot and humid climate, eating raw vegetables grown using fertilizer containing contaminated manure, and working jobs that require contact with contaminated soil all make it more likely to contract a whipworm infection. Children are also at higher risk of developing whipworm infections because they often play outdoors and may not wash their hands well before eating.
To diagnose a whipworm infection, your doctor will send the patient's stool sample to the lab. The technicians will use a microscope to look for whipworm parasites and eggs in the stool. The test should not cause any discomfort and may be done at home or at the doctor's clinic.
The most common and effective treatment for whipworm infection is antiparasitic medication. The doctor will prescribe the medication after he or she confirms the diagnosis, and it should kill both the adult whipworms and their eggs after just a few days. Once the course is complete, the patient may need to provide another stool sample for testing, to ensure the infection is eradicated.
Sometimes, whipworm and other neglected tropical diseases are treated through mass drug administration as a preventative measure, because the medications used to treat whipworm infections are inexpensive and safe. Risk groups are often treated periodically for whipworm and other neglected tropical diseases at the same time.
To decrease the risk of contracting whipworm infections, everyone should wash their hands well, especially before eating or handling food. Carefully wash, peel, and cook raw fruits and vegetables before eating them, especially those that were grown using fertilizer containing manure, and purify or boil water that might be contaminated. Avoid touching soil that contains feces, and use caution when cleaning up animal feces.
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